I am a amateur historian of sorts. There are bits and pieces of history, which tend to drag me off to a curious state of mind. For years and years....I've had this mystery existing in my mind over how the Pilgrims got off the Mayflower and went through a winter season where only forty-seven of the 102 original members survived.
You can do the statistical average.....more than half died over a six-month period. It just simply didn't make sense. If there had been some plague, or some flood, or some nutcase going around killing people....it'd all fall into place and make sense.
Over the past month, I picked up a new book...."Drinking in America: Our Secret History" by Susan Cheever. I admit.....the book will detail more about our drinking habits and history that we may not be too proud of.....but somewhere in the early stage of the book, Cheever goes back to the original crew of Americans....the Pilgrims.
In simplistic fashion, she details what I'd call in management circles....setting someone up to fail.
I came to work for a new boss in December of 1992, who spent fourteen months teaching me the art of setting people up to succeed. It didn't matter if they were people above me or below me.....his philosophy was that I needed think and act upon the situation....ensuring people got information, made informed decisions, that they avoided over-reaction, and that this would all lead to a better atmosphere. I came to believe in his strategy, and until the point of 2013 where I retired from work entirely.....that was my philosophy.
Cheever tells the Pilgrim story from the prospective of setting someone up to absolutely fail.....to the extent that fifty-five valued members of a community will die over a six-month period.
You have the case of religious fanatics (no better word for them), who were charged up on religious chatter, and wanted some dynamic land where they could practice their beliefs with no hindrance from a government. Never once did they question their beliefs or where this might lead. So they made some unwise decisions in the beginning.
The two ships they hired (oh yeah, there were two to start with)? The Speedwheel would have been drafted into history and have been mentioned millions of times.....except it never made the trip. Cheever tells this side of the story......where the owners of the Speedwheel simply didn't want to make the trip, and wanted to take the money handed over by the religious fanatics. They created episode after episode to ensure that they turned back.
Roughly two months was wasted on the delay tactics of the Speedwell crew. The supplies used up? Never really replaced. So when the Mayflower finally did take off.....it was mid-September. Arriving in early November? They were basically there at the beginning of winter.
Oddly, their charter was for a particular piece of land in Virginia. The Mayflower arrived with limited supplies for their own crew to survive the trip back.....mostly a very limited supply of beer (go figure). So the minute they hit the east coast.....near Plymouth Rock.....roughly 550 miles from the charter location agreed upon by the king....there simply wasn't much discussion. They were going to be dumped off there, period.
The difference of the 550 miles? This would be a curious point that historians ought to jump into and analyze. Milder winters exist there along the south coast of Virginia. Oddly, the Plymouth Rock area had fairly agreeable Indians who didn't threaten the existence of the Pilgrims. South Virginia? That's a totally different area and they might have all been wiped out by spring.
With a meager batch of supplies....they were not set up for success or the harsh winter they faced.
Finally, Cleever gets around to this one odd question that I've always had....the background and skill of the 102 individuals. There aren't accomplished hunters, fisherman or outdoors sort of people. You had some with military experience but that basically means they could handle and gun and fire it......having little relationship with normal hunter skills you'd desire.
These were average people who had one simple core relationship....enthusiasm for religion. If you were rating survivor skills up to a thousand skill-sets.....religion never makes the list.
In various ways, they were set up to fail.....to fail miserably, and to pay for this with their lives.
In some ways, this satisfies the mystery to me of the epic failure of the Pilgrims in that first six months. In another way, it changes my perception of the Pilgrims and their historical impact in America. They were doomed for failure, and there's just not much of a heroic nature to observe. I hate to sound negative.....but it's one of those stories that one might relate to a kid....talking about setting people up for success and why it matters.